John Denver once sang a song about ‘poems and promises and things that we believe in…’ and I am not afraid to admit I liked the song a great deal. It spoke to me of love, companionship and contentment and for some reason the refrain keeps coming to mind lately. Perhaps this is the time of life for me to re-examine the prayers I have prayed, and the promises I have made while I still have some time. It might be that I finally have enough life experience to simply enjoy poetry for its’ own sake.
A few weeks ago I was writing poetry, or prose poetry, as part of a retreat at St. John’s University in Minnesota. One of our mentors for the project is a retired theology professor and a published poet. He provided us with a selection of poems he had chosen either because they spoke to him, or because he thought they would speak to us as we struggled for inspiration. Not until I listened to the others discussing the poems did I realize how much I miss talking about literature, and I do not mean in some high brow way.
No, I miss talking about a well-turned phrase, an unexpected metaphor or an unlikely simile. I miss the excitement of the perfectly chosen word. I love words and I firmly believe there are no words that can capture the exact meaning the author struggles to convey, but I miss talking about how close the author came. There was a delight in being on retreat and the implicit notion that we had all the time in the world to discuss something not very important to most people. If I miss anything at all about my classroom, I miss the attempts to convey the beauty of language to students; I don’t think I often succeeded.
As part of a small group I enjoyed the chance to write for a defined audience, and I was challenged to create examples of graphic art before I wrote. We each created three ‘soul cards’ or collages, and then attempted to write a short passage describing what was going on in our heads and hearts as we wrote. The results were rather surprising. Each of us had a story to tell, and each of instinctively knew how to put the three pieces into an order to make a coherent whole.
While I enjoyed writing again, I enjoyed watching others discover their voices. It is always magical to watch people discover their own voices, especially those who think they ‘can’t write.’ I watched people courageously take on the challenge of writing about depression, or being a survivor of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, or other traumatic and deeply meaningful times in their lives.
The hardest part for me was not in writing down some of what I feel about myself and ministry. The most difficult thing was to give the words away. I normally only write for myself, and then never read anything I have written once I am done with it. In this instance I had to make sure the words had a chance to speak to the intended audience, but were also true to what I needed or wanted to say.
Everything is is the hands of the editors now, and I am content to give those words away. If they are helpful to someone else all well and good. If they are not, it was not for lack of trying. The experience of trying to find the right words is what I will hold onto.